Punjab province police arrested Hafiz Husnain Raza on April 25, 2016. Authorities charged him with disturbing public peace and tranquility and instigating people to terrorism under Section 7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terror Act, the journalist’s lawyer, Farooq Bajwa, told CPJ.
A Lahore court granted Raza bail on September 12, 2017, but before the journalist was released, however, local police in Okara filed additional charges against him, Bajwa told CPJ. No trial date has been scheduled.
Bajwa told CPJ that the charges against Raza were retaliation for his reporting in the Okara district in Punjab, Pakistan. The Nation, an English-language daily newspaper, has also previously reported that the charges against Raza are “fake.”
Authorities have been holding Raza in Central Jail Sahiwal in the city of Sahiwal, Punjab province, Bajwa said.
At the time of his arrest, Raza was working as the Okara correspondent for Nawa-i-Waqt, one of Pakistan’s leading conservative-leaning Urdu newspapers. Raza frequently reported on regional land rights issues before his arrest, Amal Khan, a features editor at The Nation who has been investigating the case, told CPJ.
According to Bajwa, there has been a longstanding land rights dispute in Okara for decades between the Anjuman Muzareen Punjab, a tenants’ association in Punjab province, and the military.
Khan told CPJ that the Okara land rights topic is “completely taboo” because it involves the military. She told CPJ that Raza made enemies in the Army because of his vocal advocacy in the press for the rights of the local tenants’ group. Raza was asked to withdraw his support for and reporting on the Anjuman Muzareen Punjab, Khan said, but he refused to issue an apology. Due to the atmosphere of sensitivity, secrecy, and fear surrounding the topic, there was no news about Raza’s detention for the first three months of his imprisonment, she said.
Journalists in Punjab province are vulnerable to many feudal, police, and military pressures, according to Iqbal Khattak, director of local press freedom group Freedom Network Pakistan. Khattak told CPJ that authorities wanted to use Raza’s case to send a message to other journalists in the region not to report on the topic of land disputes involving the military.
The District Police Officer in Sahiwal did not answer CPJ’s repeated requests for comment.